Yes, media coverage of Ukraine is emblematic of deep-rooted racism

Riona Sheikh, Opinions Writer

The unanimous support of Ukraine in the war against Russia is heartening and critical in this time of crisis. However, the extensive media coverage of the Ukraine war has provided yet another opportunity for the West to gloss over equally appalling events that took place in non-European countries. 

Instead of objectively recounting the events that Ukrainian people had to experience, many reporters have expressed their support for Ukraine simply because they were not expecting the war to impact people who are “relatively civilized, relatively European” as said by CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata. Though D’Agata has since apologized for his remarks, what he said was symbolic of racism and xenophobia in the United States. 

The media’s coverage of the Ukraine-Russia conflict exemplifies the deep-rooted racism within the Western world. The amount of media coverage reflects the shock that a war could take place in a country with the ‘status’ of Ukraine. “The unthinkable has happened to them, and this is not a developing, third world nation; this is Europe,” ITV reporter Lucy Watson said. The media in the West clearly revolves only around the West. “I also think our country has been very Eurocentric with news coverage over the years,” said AP US History teacher Lisa MacFarlane.

Given the circumstance of other countries in war, such as Afghanistan with a projected poverty rate of 97% by mid-2022, it can be shocking to know that a war could occur in a primarily middle-class country such as Ukraine. Yet, many are unaware that Afghanistan was not always a country deeply in poverty. Pre-war, Afghanistan was described as a bustling, thriving country – when the Afghanistan War first began, it would have been just as much of a shock as the war in Ukraine.

However, as soon as Russia invaded Ukraine,  there was no foot-dragging in the West to decide who to support. European nations and the US  swiftly set sanctions on Russian companies. The US set forth a plan for receiving Ukrainian refugees a month after the war began. The intense and immediate support for Ukraine has sparked some to pour out Russian vodka down the drain as a literal demonstration. 

Comparatively, US aid for the Afghan refugees was met with a lack of enthusiasm, even after the US delayed the refugee plan for as long as possible. Not only are Ukrainian refugees arriving sooner, they are also receiving better treatment in the US than Afghan refugees. The designation for Ukrainian refugees’ temporary protective status (TPS) was announced a mere month after their arrival, whereas there was a seven month delay for the TPS designation of Afghan refugees. 

And it is not just the US – countries in Europe have exposed their inherent racism upfront by refusing entrance to refugees from other countries. Europe infamously shut its doors to Afghan refugees in August of 2021, but held its hand out for Ukrainian refugees and welcomed them with open arms. While Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian refugees had to plan attempt after attempt to enter Europe only to be detained and beaten. The European Union has even gone so far as to drop their old procedure for refugees to help Ukrainians, which would have been more admirable if their new protocol also applied to people of color. 

The EU has allowed Ukrainians to live, work and go to school in any country so long as the war continues. This new rule took place at the same time as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbin called Syrian refugees “Muslim invaders” and legalized the forceful pushing-back of refugees. Naturally, Hungary had open arms to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees -Orbin even said, “we’re letting everyone [who’s Ukrainian] in.” 

The Bulgarian prime minister, Kiril Petkov’s racism was even more overt. “These are not the refugees we are used to… these people are Europeans,” he said. “These people are intelligent, they are educated people.”  Petkov and many others fail to acknowledge the only reason why refugees from other w regions were not educated is because they are war-struck.

It is not just governments, even the private entertainment industry has over-coverage of the Ukraine war in comparison to other global conflicts. The events in the Middle East were brushed off like a passing fad that happened far out of reach of western countries. 

There is no doubt that the Ukraine war is a serious conflict and should be treated as such, but that does not mean that conflicts with people of color should be ignored or downplayed. SNL celebrated the beginning of the Afghanistan war with a skit called “War Party” where they broke out into song and portrayed the Afghanistan War as merely a “war on terrorism,” bltantantly ignoring all the innocent lives that were lost. SNL’s acknowledgment of the Ukraine War was significantly less demeaning, with an opening prayer for Ukraine and no cruel jokes. 

The war in Ukraine has led to a chain effect exposing the layers of racism and xenophobia in Western society. Critical as the coverage of the Ukraine invasion is, that does not mean the West should undermine the issues of refugees from non-European countries. The United States has been portraying itself as anti-racist, but with its complete and total lack of acknowledgment for other humanitarian crises abraod, deep-rooted racism has once again been exposed. An asylum-seeker from the Middle East should not be treated any differently than an asylum-seeker from Europe, and as the so-called Land of Freedom, the United States media should know better.